“Put aside our differences and find a way forward that respects all our young people.”
That was the message from Mr David Mehaffey, principal of Craigavon Senior High School, at the school’s annual prize day last Friday.
“It is time for school leaders to engage with one another and work together for the common good,” he said.
Talking about the need for change Mr Mehaffey said, “No one at Craigavon Senior High School – either at Governor or senior management level – is campaigning for the destruction of the Dickson Plan.
“In every walk of life, however, organisations are faced with changing circumstances and have to be able to adapt. Take the growth of online shopping, for example. Traditional shops remain but they have had to do things differently in order to stay in business.”
“Back in 2011” he continued, “I drew attention to the fact that Craigavon Senior High School had accommodation and financial problems. I pointed out that our Lurgan Campus lacked so many basic school facilities that it was barely fit for purpose. I explained that the school faced huge financial challenges as a two year, split site school that had to deliver the Key Stage 4 curriculum and manage pupil numbers that fluctuated from year to year and campus to campus. Two years later those problems remain unresolved.
“Add the need to replace the accommodation at both Lurgan and Portadown Colleges; factor in the current pressures on government funding – and it is obvious that there must be change of some kind.”
Mr Mehaffey pointed out that he was not there to argue for a particular solution to the problems of the two tier system. “Instead”, he said, “I want to give my support to those calling for a different approach to this issue. Like many others I want to see the current divisive campaign replaced by an actual search for a solution – a solution that will encompass both our towns and respect all our young people – and I do mean all. It is a matter of great regret to me that proper debate has been stifled by the toxic atmosphere that has been created around this issue.”
Mr Mehaffey went on, “I am saddened by the events of recent months. Our attempts to represent the interests of our young people have made us one of the targets of a co-ordinated campaign that has demeaned everyone connected with this school; divided the community and damaged the good relationships that formerly existed between the schools. Regardless of the eventual outcome the harm done to education in this area will take some time to repair. And we still don’t have a workable alternative to the Education and Library Board’s proposal.”
Mr Mehaffey believes the current impasse can only be resolved by education leaders. “It is very evident from some of the things I have read that this problem can only be sorted out by people who understand the issues – and it is time for those of us who work in education to put aside our differences and work together for the common good. It is surely incumbent upon all of us as school leaders to engage with one another in a professional and respectful manner to find a way out of this impasse.”
He continued: “For there to be any hope of success, however, everyone involved needs to bring to the table a genuine commitment to reaching a solution and an acceptance that compromises will have to be made. The community must also recognise that there is unlikely to be a solution that will find favour with everyone. The options are limited by a wide range of factors – factors that are not explained through slogans and sound-bites – and the reality is likely to be that the eventual outcome will satisfy no one.
“In whatever way it is achieved we need a solution that caters for all the children and young people currently served by the Dickson Plan; a solution that treats all our children and young people with respect; a solution that focuses on the needs of children and young people rather than institutions and a solution that offers the long term stability needed for the necessary funds to be made available. And whatever is proposed the views of the families served by this school must be accorded equal respect.”
Mr Mehaffey added, “This is my community too. I have lived here all my life and my entire career in teaching has been spent here. I simply do not accept that the people amongst whom I live want this divisive debate to continue. What they want is direction and a degree of certainty around what is happening with our schools. It is time for creative thinking. We need a vision for schools that is focused on the current and future needs of our young people. And we need it now.”